Constraint Programming and UCC

This video from 2010 introduces Constraint Programming and the University College Cork (UCC) Cork Constraint Computation Centre (4C), which has since merged into the multi-institutional Insight Centre for Data Analytics. If you have ever completed a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku puzzle, then you have solved a Constraint Satisfaction Problem. These involve finding values for problem variables subject to constraints on which combinations of values are allowed. In Sudoku, for example, one must choose digits for the blank squares subject to constraints such as all the squares in the first row must have different digits.

You may well have benefited from Constraint Programming without knowing it. Perhaps it was embedded in your Oracle software. Perhaps Constraint Programming scheduled the locomotive on a train you rode in France. An astonishing variety of practical problems can be viewed as Constraint Satisfaction Problems. Helmut Simonis’ Constraint Applications Blog contains a number of examples. Often one wants to go beyond mere “satisfaction” to “optimization”, either because total satisfaction is impossible and one wants to do the best one can, or because there are alternative satisfactory solutions and one wants to choose the best. The basic paradigm can be extended to accomodate preferences, uncertainty, competing or cooperating agents, and many other problem features.

I established 4C in late 2001, using a Science Foundation Ireland Fellow grant to build upon a constraint programming group that Professor James Bowen had established at University College Cork in Ireland. 4C grew to be one of the largest and most successful labs in the field, and made its mark in the wider context of Artificial Intelligence as well. Over one five year period, for example, 4C had as many papers in total at the three top international Artificial Intelligence conferences as traditional Artificial Intelligence powerhouse Stanford University. 4C won numerous awards for both academic and technical achievement. It worked with local and national government, local and multi-national industry, and spun off two companies.

In 2011 I stepped down as Director. Professor Barry O’Sullivan, longtime Associate Director, assumed the role of Director. In 2013, under Professor O’Sullivan’s leadership, 4C became part of a new, multi-institutional Insight Centre for Data Analytics, established by Science Foundation Ireland with funding of €75m.